our story

The idea of assembling an audience for the public reading of literary texts in their original languages arose with a proposal Enrico Palandri first made in 2005 to Sandro Parenzo, Councillor for Culture in the third Massimo Cacciari administration. From the very first exploratory meetings, Donata Grimani and Riccardo Held were also involved, and together with Enrico they began an interesting journey lasting nearly a year through some of the many cultural associations working in Venice and Mestre at that time: the Ukrainian Women’s Choir, the Iranian House of Culture, and many other groups that had and still have the scope of maintaining the personal and collective national identities of the many internal migrants in the province.

From the outset, the Casa delle Parole has sought to be a forum for profitable exchanges between the many different linguistic energies in the city through the agency of literature. Among our earliest members as we began this journey were Amos Luzzatto and Laura Voghera, who read and suggested texts of their own and by others for many years. At the end of our Tuesday evenings in the theatre our habit has been to go out to drink, eat or both together, while the preparatory evenings, usually a couple of weeks before the public reading, take place at the home of one or other of us, with gastronomic offerings from all that can sometimes trump the literary ones.

To help us in our aim of joining hands across linguistic and social borders, the municipality made Casa Goldoni available to Donata, Enrico and Riccardo’s initiative. The first public reading took place there in the spring of 2006 and was structured around The Thousand and One Nights. Since then, for nine months of the year, we have met every second Tuesday of the month at 6.30 pm, with the Casa delle Parole almost immediately becoming what it remains today: an open and cosmopolitan group, in love with languages, the sound and diversity of each one, and the pleasure of listening to readings in the original.

In just a few years, the public that had gathered around the original group, by then hardly distinguishable from the larger group that participated, proposed and organised the events, grew to the point our needing the Venice City Council to move our Tuesday appointments from Casa Goldoni, which could only accommodate around forty people, to Ca’ Rezzonico. Subsequently we were guests of the university on the Zattere, and finally of Palazzo Grassi, which has been generously hosting evenings in the Teatrino since 2011.

Among the various parallel initiatives that have come and in some cases gone over the years were La Casa della Musica, which was based on a similar principle of crossing borders between genres and cultures, Vapoesia, the poems on vaporetti and town buses in Venice and Mestre curated by John Francis Phillimore, and a number of workshops brought to secondary schools with the support of the Fondazione Venezia (the Leggere la scrittura project). Of these, Vapoesia has recently been relaunched, guided this time by a committee headed by Cecilia Gualazzini and

From our earliest days at unpredictable intervals members of the group have also organised extra evenings usually dedicated to individual authors. A memorable one featured the exiled Chilean playwright Gaston Salvatore – in person – while another celebrated the centenary of Elizabeth Bishop.

The beating heart of the Casa delle Parole, however, remains the monthly reading of literary texts in the original languages and in Italian translation at the Teatrino. For several years now, an average monthly audience of around 100 people per evening comes to listen to the readings and engage in dialogue with the so-called core group, which consists of around 30 people. The composition of both groups is constantly shifting as students and temporary residents come and go from the cosmopolitan city. The core grouping is open to anyone who wishes to propose a text related to one of the nine themes chosen each year in October for the new season. The osmosis between readers and the public is one of the happiest features of the Casa delle Parole, which has (nearly always) managed to maintain a cordial and egalitarian atmosphere between readers, writers, translators, teachers and students and the merely curious who attend and cease to attend from time to time.

Among our illustrious members and visitors over the years, apart from those already mentioned, have been Daniele Del Giudice, Vikram Seth, Michele Mari, Andrea di Robilant, Jan Noble, Patrick McGuinness, Gilberto Sacerdoti, Ernesto Rubin and the various  fellows of the Marie Brandolini Residency, which the Casa delle Parole initiated some years ago in collaboration with Beit Venezia, Mishkenot Sh’ananim in Jerusalem, Rothschild Europe and under the magnificent patronage Marie’s mother, Beatrice Rosenberg. The residency consists in three weeks in Venice and three in Jerusalem and celebrates the memory of our much-loved friend and reader Marie Brandolini, who tragically died before her time. Winners of the residency hitherto have been Anita and Kieran Desai, Maira Kalman, Françoise Segal, Sjón, Emmanuel Moses, Joshua Cohen and most recently Golnaz Hashmzadeh Bonde.

Some 30/40 texts are proposed each month, from which about half are chosen for public reading (we do not want to test our listeners’ patience or keep them from their dinners). If you multiply these by 9 evenings (for some years 10, including a special September one for Venice Glass Week), there have been literally thousands of poems and prose passages, familiar and unknown, that we have given to each other and to our loyal, if ever-changing public.

A fine adventure for those who love reading and being read to.